WHO NEEDS CLEOPATRA?

By Steve Redwood

Reviewed by Liza Granville

This is Redwood's second novel. His first, Fisher of Devils, received excellent reviews and was nominated for the British Fantasy Society 2003 Best Novel Award. Redwood is a seriously funny, wholly irreverent author, and although the humour here is more restrained, less liable to tip over the edge into the pantomime-esque, it still has its wild moments.

Who Needs Cleopatra? is a time travel story and my first impression was that a comparison could be made with Robert Heinlein's Lazarus Long epic, where the protagonist played with time to the extent that he became his own ancestor. In fact, Redwood's work is far more convoluted a tale, full of wonderful inconsistencies and impossible referencing, together with crazily illogical logic and mind contorting paradoxes. This is not to say that it's a difficult read; it isn't, particularly if you make no attempt to understand the 'scientific facts'. The work is witty, well plotted, beautifully written and held my attention from beginning to end, and if at first the places travelled to seemed unconnected the relevance soon becomes apparent, as--finally--does the title.

I felt that characterisation--particularly with regard to dialogue - was sometimes a little weak in Fisher of Devils and also in some of Redwood's short stories; it is far stronger in this latest work. Most of the characters are memorable. The smell of roasting PIG is strong throughout, but even so I desperately wanted to know what would happen to the bladder of the dastardly protagonist. (Is this a subtle reference to the book-long lighting of Uncle Toby's pipe in Sterne's Tristram Shandy? she was forced to ask herself). One criticism that still stands is that there is a tendency to tie all ends up quickly at the end of the work in the form of (sometimes) over-long passages of explanation.

Because I was so impressed by its quality in Fisher of Devils, I was a little disappointed that Redwood had not incorporated more of the strong emotional charge underpinning Devils, and hope that this will reappear in his next major work. At the same time, I was mildly amused to discover that the most vicious of Women in Black can be... er... un-womanned by... well, let's say only an Unreformed Male could have written the final six paragraphs. Dear, dear... I smell pork again. No, you'll have to read it to find out. It's not my business to provide you with the juicy highlights.

Make no mistake, only an erudite writer could have held together such a magpie's nest of brilliant ideas. Redwood is an author deserving of wider recognition. Very highly recommended.

Who Needs Cleopatra? by Steve Redwood. Pb, 234pp, £7.99. Published by reverb.

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